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Underground Codes

Race, Crime and Related Fires

Katheryn Russell-Brown

Publication Year: 2004

Winner of a 2005 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award (Honorable Mention

Americans fear crime, are rattled by race and avoid honest discussions of both. Anxiety, denial, miscommunication, and ignorance abound. Imaginary connections between minorities and crime become real, self-fulfilling prophecies and authentic links to race, class, gender and crime go unexplored. Katheryn Russell-Brown, author of the highly acclaimed The Color of Crime, makes her way through this intellectual minefield, determined to shed light on the most persistent and perplexing domestic policy issues.

The author tackles a range of race and crime issues. From outdated research methods that perpetuate stereotypes about African Americans, women, and crime to the over hyped discourse about gangsta rap and law breaking, Russell-Brown challenges the conventional wisdom of criminology. Underground Codes delves into understudied topics such as victimization rates for Native Americans—among the highest of any racial group—and how racial profiling affects the day-to-day lives of people of color.

Innovative, well-researched and meticulously documented, Underground Codes makes a case for greater public involvement in the debate over law enforcement—and our own language—that must be heard if we are to begin to have a productive national conversation about crime and race.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. vii

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p. ix

First, thank you to New York University Press for its continued interest in my work. As well, I thank my colleagues who read and discussed manuscript chapters with me: Sandra Bass, Angela Jordan Davis, David Harris, Darnell Hawkins, Dragan Milovanovic, Jill Nelson, Becky Tatum, Ronald Walters, and Geoffrey Ward. As well, in spring 2001, I received ...

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pp. 1-4

In the children’s game of “telephone,” a group of children sit in a circle and one child begins by whispering a statement or phrase into the ear of the child sitting next to her. This child then repeats the message, passing it along to the next child. This continues until the statement or phrase makes its way back around the circle. When the last person receives ...

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1. “Petit Apartheid” in the Justice System

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pp. 5-19

For decades, sociologists and criminologists have sought to explain the ceiling-high arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates of African Americans. Whether these disproportionately high rates can be reconciled by Black offense rates, racial bias, or a combination of both is subject to debate. Academic conclusions as to the presence and degree of racial bias ...

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2. American Indians and Crime: Invisible Minorities and the Weight of Justice

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pp. 20-34

The treatment that American Indians have received from the U.S. criminal justice system serves as a classic example of the harms and slights, intended and unintended, experienced by racial minorities within the criminal justice system. There are a host of injuries that go unnoticed and, therefore, unaddressed by the justice system. In fact, the experiences of ...

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3. Gangsta Rap and Crime: Any Relationship?

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pp. 35-54

In the early and mid-1990s, rap music faced its most prolonged and acute attack to date. By then, rap music, almost twenty years old, had become a popular music choice for American youth and a multimillion-dollar industry—an urban Rumpelstiltskin tale, life’s harsh reality spun into gold. It had become a popular music choice for American youth of all races. ...

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4. Policing Communities, Policing Race

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pp. 55-71

Many people can remember the first police brutality case that made them sit up and take notice. For some, it was a national case, such as the one involving Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, or Rodney King. For others, it was a local case. Like clockwork, every few years, our first brush with police brutality is linked with a contemporary case of police abuse. These ...

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5. Black Protectionism

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pp. 72-96

A look at how African Americans treat high-profile members of its community who have been accused of criminal or unethical activity shows that the community is between a rock and hard place. On the one hand, African Americans as a group believe in the Puritan work ethic—play by the rules and you will succeed. On the other hand, as a group they are ...

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6. In the Crosshairs: Racial Profiling and Living while Black

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pp. 97-118

A Madison Avenue advertising agency could not have done a better job of putting racial profiling on the public map. In the early to mid-1990s, there were several prominent news stories involving Black men—rich and famous—who reported being stopped by the police because of their race.1 The unstated text in these stories was that their high-profile status should ...

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7. Black Women and the Justice System: Raced and Gendered into Submission

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pp. 119-134

Without fail, most of the studies on Black women and the criminal justice system begin by noting that there is little research on the topic. The small body of research that does exist has not attracted much attention. Why is this? One possibility: Black women occupy a unique space in the public and academic consciousness. In contrast to that for Black males, the locus ...

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8. Race Facts

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pp. 135-142

In the late 1980s, E. D. Hirsch’s book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know was published. The book’s thesis was that, as a group, Americans no longer have knowledge of a basic set of historical, contemporary, and cultural facts. Its index included a list of over five thousand names, phrases, dates, and concepts that, according to the author, ...

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pp. 143-144

A central argument of this book is that there exist underground codes related to race and crime. These codes operate in two ways. First, they allow us, as a society, to overlook and dismiss nonmainstream populations, such as American Indians and Black women. Second, the codes reinforce stereotypes of crime and criminality, such as how racial...


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pp. 145-164


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pp. 165-170


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pp. 171-174

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814769249
E-ISBN-10: 0814769241
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814775400
Print-ISBN-10: 0814775403

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 57364930
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Underground Codes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Discrimination in criminal justice administration -- United States.
  • Discrimination in law enforcement -- United States.
  • Crime and race -- United States.
  • Minorities -- United States.
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